Paul McGinley is hopeful that the first appearance of Tiger Woods in some five months could spark Rory McIlroy back into life on the PGA Tour.
Since the restart, the world number one has struggled to recapture his brilliance of last year, posting T32 at the Charles Schwab, T41 at the RBC Heritage and a much-improved T11 at the Travelers Championship a fortnight ago.
Fresh off a two-week break, McIlroy has been grouped alongside Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka for the first two rounds of this week’s Memorial Tournament and it’s the company of the 15-time Major winner in particular that has McGinley excited to see how McIlroy responds.
“Rory McIlroy has lost a little bit of momentum since the restart,” McGinley wrote in his Sky Sports blog.
“He was flying just before the lockdown happened and was so consistent, but since he has come back that hasn’t quite happened for him.
“Whether it’s the lack of atmosphere or he has lost a bit of momentum by not being able to practice as much, I’m not sure, but he certainly doesn’t have the same bite. We haven’t seen it so far anyway, but he’s a guy for the big occasion and I think that having Woods in the field this week will bring a bit more of a competitive edge to him.
“We’re not seeing that his swing has all of a sudden gone poor or his putting has gone poor, he just doesn’t seem to be on the edge mentally. I think when he has got the bit between his teeth and has something to prove, or when he has been discounted, is generally when he plays his best.
“The recent evidence of that is The Open last year when he missed the cut and then went on a great run after that, winning a couple of events as well as the FedExCup. There are people questioning him and wondering why he’s not the same as he was before lockdown, but I think that will be good for him as that seems to be when he’s at his best.”
Back at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio for what’s promised to be a much tougher assignment than last week, a longer layout with tougher rough should place a premium on driving accuracy and approach play that will suit the game’s top player.
Whether Muirfield Village will be able to cope with the latest experiment from the game’s mad scientist, Bryson DeChambeau, only four rounds will tell but McGinley believes that McIlroy might just be simmering under the radar this week and that could prove a powerful weapon.
“Bryson DeChambeau is taking all the attention right now with how far he is hitting the ball and I’m sure the likes of McIlroy and Brooks Koepka won’t like that,” McGinley added.
“They’ve been the big daddies in terms of big-hitting and being at the upper-echelons of the game in recent years.
“Everyone in golf has generally talked about Tiger or Rory or Brooks over the past year or two, whereas DeChambeau has come in and is now the fox in the hen house. I’m looking forward to seeing what reaction the other players come up with.”
McIlroy owns the most top-10s at the Memorial Tournament (4) among the top-five players in the Official World Golf Rankings while Woods is a five-time winner at the event.